Blue Skies Over Live Oak

By Pat Fish

This was actually the last photo of the day, taken as we exited the Live Oak Camp parking lot and headed off to the 154 and back to Santa Barbara. But it is just too good not to feature on this, the first ride and blog of the new 2022.

Because some of the trails might still be a bit soggy after our annual rainy season over the holidays, we stuck to a well known route.

All in all we traveled 5.6 miles in 3 hours, and the animals and humans were all pleased to be out of the city.

The new information kiosk is filled with data, presumably provided for the hordes of hikers we all anticipated would come to these previously forbidden trails. But no, as usual today there was only one car in the lot when we arrived and before we started our ride we saw two walkers come down off the campsite hill. By far the least interesting part of the trail system.

The Santa Ynez River crossing just below the parking lot is usually merely rocks, so any time there is water we like to give the creatures a chance for a drink.

I spoke with the man who keeps the bucking horses on the property and he said he recently caught a hunter who had killed a buck at this spot. The very idea that a man was out here shooting a gun is a distressing report.

The traditional access point for the trails has been a locked gate, and each time anyone wanted to come to trail ride they had to call the Rangers at the Lake and register, and get that day’s entry code. Now that has all changed, and with the gate left open all day the hunters are claiming a right of access. Legally there are issues, and signs saying NO HUNTING have been posted, and “the lessee” has been complaining to the Bureau of Reclamation to override the County’s changes on access.

But it was not a time to be worried about anything. I was in good company and we were on the trail.

Jamie pointed out to me how beautiful the skies were, so I snapped a nice photo for her.

As far as we could tell we were the ONLY people on the entire property, which is an amazing feeling. 17 miles of beautiful trails, and just sharing it with deer and wild horses. What luck.

The first vantage point from which we can see Lake Cachuma is always worth a pause, savoring the view.

Tobe & I seen through Mosca’s ears with Cachuma behind us

and Noe with Mariposa at attention.

As we threaded our way closer to the lake level the chalk hill trail tempts us on the left, but that peak is very steep and we opted for a less rigorous route.

The single best thing is seeing distance.

Being able to look to a horizon and know it is just wild land, no civilization, no people angry about politics or afraid of each other. 

Just creatures and nature.

Not that the plant life isn’t suffering.
Lots of the trees, some hundreds of years old, are having a very hard time here.

Some places it feels like a ghost forest.

And sometimes it looks like a bone yard.

Trees exploded into a collapsed pile of wood, victim of a lower water table and too much drought time between rains.

Sometimes it is just so breathtakingly pretty it feels like we are on a quest through mystical landscape.

But the turkey vultures circling above are a note of realism.

Of course Tobe’s eyesight being as acute as it is he tells me he’s a bit concerned about something in those trees at the far side of the plateau.

An entire flock of turkeys, having made it through the holiday season, perhaps rustling up acorns.

We headed across the plateau to get a closer look at the lake.

Recent rains caused big ruts on the sides of the access roads. 

And the grassy areas have treacherous underground squirrel warrens, so we proceed with care.

In some areas we saw vernal pools, low spots providing a welcome water source for the horses and cattle.

This one had wooden boards around the rim, and I suspect the “lessee” did that to stabilize the access.

Tobe and I following Jamie and Mosca, she always has a sharp eye.

Tobe doesn’t need to be told there are horses out there.

Their presence always seems so calming, they make the landscape feel alive.

And turning around and looking in the other direction, Tobe alerts on a small herd of deer watching us carefully before running off.

Thank goodness for iPhone technology, without it they are just blips between the trees.

Today Noe is riding Mariposa, the most reliable of borrowed horses. She is an Azteca, well trained and willing.

Which we can’t always say of Jamie’s Mosca, a retired racehorse with a boss mare mind of her own.

Me, I’ll stick with Tobe Mule, my reliable pal. My four good legs.

Finally we got down to the level of the lake, at the end where the pontoons forbid boats further passage. Beautiful clouds, a warm perfect day to be exploring around the trails.

Then it was time to turn around. The Winchester Gun Club is straight ahead in the coastal mountains, and some trick of the clouds was causing every gun shot to echo across to us.

And here also the recent rains have caused deep cracks on the side of the trail.

These three access holes are proof of the presence of many rodents below. We did not see any coyotes today, but they surely were nearby watching us.

As the oaks struggle they drop limbs to try to preserve the core.

The marvelous texture of the ancient oaks’ bark.

The stark beauty of the bare branches against the cloudy sky.

And the spooky hanging Spanish moss wafting in the breeze.

Finally there is just one more climb up a hill to get us on the path back to the rigs.

More rain ruts, and one last push for Mr Mule.

And then it is homeward bound.

A jet streaks overhead like a meteor as we look out across the golf course that borders the 154, now for sale.

Then it is back across the river, where a small waterfall is aerating the water.

Back to the MuleMobile, and then home. 

Another lovely day in the Live Oak Camp trails.



Written by Lucky 777

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